La Vista's volunteer fire department, the largest in the Omaha area, may soon be no more.
An increased demand for services without a similar rise in the number of volunteers has made the system unsustainable for the city of more than 15,000 people, La Vista's mayor said Friday.
The most likely solution is that nearby Papillion, which has a paid department, will take over emergency services in La Vista, the mayors of the two cities said at a press conference Friday.
La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig said the firefighters learned of the news Thursday night, and many were surprised or angry.
“Any time you put your heart and your soul into something, there's a chance there's going to be emotions,” he said. “We proposed maybe taking away from something that they love.”
But he said he believes they understood the need.
According to the city, emergency service calls have grown by 150 percent in the last decade. The city would need 75 firefighters to be fully staffed, Kindig said. But there are only 61 trained volunteers.
La Vista and Papillion plan to study whether it would make the most financial sense to join together rather than La Vista forming its own paid department.
They're not sure how the costs would break down or how many firefighters they would need to hire. But they said they expect joining together will be the best option.
“On the surface, it sounded intuitive,” Papillion Mayor David Black said.
Current La Vista volunteers would be able to apply for the open spots in Papillion, Black said.
The Papillion Fire Department already covers 61 square miles, including the City of Papillion and the Papillion Rural Fire District. The boundaries run from 36th Street to 144th Street, between Giles Road south to the Platte River.
Papillion and La Vista have long shared a school district.
The cities are also looking at sharing some public works facilities, and they've hired a Texas firm to help study the possibilities for that.
Paid fire departments serve the four largest cities in the area: Omaha, Bellevue, Council Bluffs and Papillion.
Bellevue had a volunteer fire department until 2007, when the Legislature forced the city to hire a paid chief to conduct a study of the city's public safety needs. The city is now mostly staffed by part-time, paid firefighters.
All metropolitan-area cities served by a volunteer department are smaller than La Vista. The next-largest city with a volunteer department is Blair, which is home to a little more than 8,000 people.
If La Vista and Papillion join departments, the change would take effect in October at the beginning of their new fiscal year.
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